Thursday, August 27, 2009

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

More on Stephen Harper's announcement that he will be making nine patronage appointments to the Senate. Don Martin was having a good hair day.

PM's patronage sinks to new lows
By Don Martin,
Calgary Herald
August 27, 2009

When he anoints his very own Hallelujah Chorus to represent Canadians in the Senate in the coming days, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will have delivered his most compelling argument for electing senators.

Sources say up to nine vacant Senate seats will soon be filled, bolstering the Conservative standing to 46 seats in the 105-seat chamber.

Among the rumoured appointees are fawning Conservative party president Don Plett, bare-knuckled campaign manager Doug Finley and obedient former staffer Carolyn Stewart-Olsen.

An ideological politician who was disgusted at watching Parliament's upper house turned into a vote-stacking exercise, where only the faintest of serious or sober second thoughts actually take place, Harper has turned ruthlessly partisan in making his Senate appointments, elevating party loyalty into the sole consideration for the cushiest job on the Hill.

The argument for such warped behaviour was first advanced after Harper rushed 18 bums into Senate seats when the Liberal-NDP-Bloc coalition was threatening to take down his government. Better to load up the red chamber with loyalists before the Liberals handed out those juicy plums, he argued. (Don got this wrong. The Bloc were not part of this coalition. They only agreed to support it on confidence motions for 18 months)

But is it absolutely necessary for Harper to fill these $132,000 positions, with retirement deferred to age 75, with fanatical loyalists?

These insiders may not be known outside the parliamentary precinct, but that only makes their appointments more outrageous.

Their strongest, indeed ONLY, character traits for the job are blinkered vision and blinded loyalty. They will serve as little more than a vote administered by remote control from the PMO for as long as Harper owns the job.

There is a certain shenanigan symmetry to this, of course.

The Liberals appointed a former prime minister communications director named Jim Munson to the job. Stewart-Olsen comes from the communications wing of Harper's PMO.

The Liberals put their election wizard, David Smith, into the Senate. Finley has been the campaign guru for the Conservatives through all Harper-led elections.

But there's something sad about justifying the sliming up of the Senate with patronage trough-feeders on the grounds that Tories are no worse than the Liberals.

There's also the incongruity of giving faithful Conservatives a job representing provinces which rejected them in the polls. Fabian Manning grabbed a Senate gig representing The Rock just two months after he was defeated as an MP there in the last federal election. Rumours have former premier Rodney MacDonald, ousted from power in Nova Scotia only two months ago, landing a seat.

The Senate is becoming the land of the misfit politicians, but at least most of those types have solid people skills.

Not so much for gruff Doug Finley, who excels at campaign donor shakedowns and serving as guard dog in deciding who was worthy of receiving Conservative nominations (including his wife Diane Finley) . Ditto for Stewart-Olsen, severed from the PMO a few months ago, whose enforcement of low-level directives and constant singing of Harper's praises are somehow seen as ideal senator material.

Of course, the ultimate objective can only warm the hearts of true blue Conservatives. This batch of appointments edges the Senate closer toward the glorious day when it will fall under Conservative control.

But Harper could've and should've done better--even though the inside view is that he did not get enough credit for delivering decent appointments under his watch.

True, the appointment of Bert Brown, who had been voted in twice in Alberta elections, was commendable.

Former broadcaster Pamela Wallin deserves credit for projecting a dignity of independence as a bona fide celebrity senator, even while standing with the government when the votes are called. And while I've been hard on former CTV icon Mike Duffy, at least he bonds with average Canadians even while shamelessly promoting the Conservative agenda.

But the names so far fall short of having any skills to represent their assigned provinces in a more effective Senate. They will only represent Stephen Harper. That's why we must find a better way of making quality Senate appointments --or elect to abolish it entirely.

I say abolish it, since the Conservatives have simply found a new way to make it dysfunctional.

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